Frank Ideas
frank ideas - neon pink rubber and felt necklace

frank ideas – neon pink rubber and felt necklace


Rowan Shaw started designing jewellery because both of her kids were keen swimmers.  “With training every morning at 5am it meant I was stuck in a car or by a pool a lot and jewellery was portable. At that stage it was mainly textile necklaces using felt or cuffs made from vintage buttons, scavenged from thrift shops at beach towns when the kids were competing at nippers carnivals.”


frank ideas - neon green and orange earrings

frank ideas – neon green and orange earrings


frank ideas - red and black necklace

frank ideas – red and black necklace


Her current jewellery is more simplistic in style, using modern materials such as plastic and rubber in sleek forms, with bright colours, and utilising the materials themselves for textural interest.

Her world has revolved around design and making ever since she can remember. With an architect father she grew up surrounded by contemporary design books and magazines, carpet and wallpaper samples, and modern furniture. “My mother made most of our clothes and created fabulous costumes for the plays I was always in so there were always buttons, cottons, wool and fabric samples lying around. As a family we were often immersed in handmade projects for the house – curtains made from paper beads that we created from the gloriously colourful pages in glossy architectural magazines, covering walls with wonderfully textural textiles, sorting volcanic stones for landscaping in our unusual garden…My adolescence was spent rehearsing and acting, painting murals on walls, working with polymer clay (eons before it was cool) dipping wire in bright (possibly toxic) substances to make mobiles and…well, simply creating. I remember when I was about 12, making a mobile out of “dippity glass” (does anyone else remember that stuff??)  that I took to school to use as a demonstration for a talk about  processes. No one, including the teacher, believed I had made it myself, assuming it had been bought from a shop.”


 “That was probably the first time it dawned on me that not everyone spent their life making things.”


Frank Ideas originally started as a furniture design business several years ago, run by Rowan and her friend Gillian. “The name originated because we were both very frank in our taste and opinions. Our designs were  quite Scandinavian in feel using light coloured timbers, very utilitarian or modernist in aesthetic. We used to spend a lot of time in architectural hardware companies and timber yards battling with sexist males who were often quite patronising and assumed we had no idea what we were talking about. We had a lot of fun explaining to them that we were “Frank” not his assistants. I kept the name once Gill moved to a more idyllic, rural life deciding that I would still have Frank Ideas even though I was now designing jewellery. I have many clients who buy regularly from me on line and still assume I am a rather flamboyant gay male.”


frank ideas - folded silver origami necklace

frank ideas – folded silver origami necklace


After several bouts of studying and working in theatre and design, she eventually found her way to jewellery. “I now feel like jewellery is what I should have been doing my whole life, but am glad it evolved from other disciplines. I’ve done some very short silversmithing courses but apart from that am totally self taught, using intuition and trial and error to develop my own techniques and style. I am totally materials based – ie I very rarely draw a design first (unlike all those years spent at a drawing board) but instead will dye felt or knot rubber long before I know what I am actually going to do with it. I have boxes of experiments which I hardly ever throw out – even the most disastrous is set aside until (sometimes a few years later) I eventually rediscover it and it will be the solution to a current design problem. This somewhat chaotic approach to design leads to hoarding of materials – I frequently purchase vintage African beads, find pieces of rubber or fabulous bits of fabric that I have no idea what to do with – they will appeal to me because of their colour, texture or history. They will sit on a shelf until inspiration hits – hardly a disciplined or rigorous design approach!!”


frank ideas - red paper flower necklace

frank ideas – red paper flower necklace


“I love the process – probably more than the final result. I love the experimenting and total absorption that comes from working with unusual materials. I really love the solitude and am sooo thankful that the Internet means I don’t have to try to sell my pieces at markets very often. I am often amazed when people get excited by something I’ve made.”

Having such an extensive design background has given Rowan a huge pool of influences from which to draw. She says that architecture is of course an enduring backdrop to everything, but her favourites in other mediums shine through, and include the fabulous paper jewellery of Ana Hagopian, the rich colour of the legendary ceramicist Clarice Cliff, as well as the inspiring array of otherwise discarded materials used by British sculptor Tony Cragg. “I actually still believe that less is more, its just that sometimes I choose to fight against it.”


frank ideas - red and grey felt necklace

frank ideas – red and grey felt necklace


frank ideas - black rubber knotted choker necklace

frank ideas – black rubber knotted choker necklace


Working out of her home studio in Balmain, Sydney gives her easy access to the many things that are important to her – especially water. “We are a five minute ferry ride to the MCA and the Opera house so I’m close to the city which I passionately adore. I’m an urban girl who delights in bridges, buildings, art galleries and shops. We are 20 minutes drive from Bondi where I swim and walk most days in summer. During winter it is only a 5 minute trip to the local pool where I swim most mornings. I need water in my life; swimming laps is the closest thing I get to meditation. I find the repetition calming, and the rhythm of breathing helps me find the centre I need to plan the day in my studio.”

“My life is lived in total chaos, much to the dismay of my family who are all quite orderly in their approach to life and living. My husband is very tidy but has learnt to turn a blind eye to the disruption and mess that seems to follow me. I try to keep my work contained in my studio or my office but I often spill out of both spaces.”

Her favourite piece of advice is one from Ira Glass, and I love it too. It’s about just keeping on doing.


“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” {Ira Glass}


You can find more of Rowan’s jewellery in her Etsy shop, FrankIdeas.